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George Ramsdale Witton (1874 – 1942) was a Lieutenant in the Bushveldt Carbineers in the Boer War in South Africa. He was sentenced to death for murder after the shooting of Boer prisoners.[1] He was subsequently reprieved by Kitchener, although Lieutenants Peter Handcock and Harry "Breaker" Morant who had been court martialed with him were executed by a firing squad on 27 February 1902.

Witton was born near Warnambool, Victoria, Australia, and was from a farming family; prior to his VIB enlistment, he was a gunner in the Royal Australian Artillery. He enlisted in the Victorian Imperial Bushmen for the Boer War, and was promoted from Corporal to Squadron Quartermaster-Sergeant. Major Robert Lenehan enlisted him in the Bushveldt Carbineers with a commission as Lieutenant.

Kitchener commuted Witton's sentence to life imprisonment. He was released after protests on 11 August 1904, though not pardoned. He had been ill twice in prison in England, once from arsenic fumes in a metal shop and once from typhoid fever. He returned to Australia 12 November 1904 embittered after three years in prison, and wrote a book giving his eyewitness account of the events involving Morant, Handcock and the BVC.

Scapegoats of the Empire book and Later life

His book, Scapegoats of the Empire was originally published in 1907 by D. W. Paterson of Melbourne, but was long unavailable. Prior to its reprint in 1982 by the Australian publishing house Angus & Robertson, it is claimed that only seven copies of the book survived in various Australian state libraries and in the possession of Witton's family. Although unsubstantiated, it has long been claimed that the book was suppressed by the Australian government and most copies were destroyed; another explanation is that most of the copies were destroyed by an accidental fire at the publisher's warehouse. The 1982 reprinting was inspired by the success of a film based on the book, entitled Breaker Morant.

Witton's main assertion, as indicated by the book's provocative title, is that he, Morant, and Handcock were made scapegoats by the British authorities in South Africa—that they were made to take the blame for widespread British war crimes against the Boers, and that the trial and executions were carried out by the British for political reasons, partly to cover up a controversial and secret "no prisoners" policy promulgated by Lord Kitchener, and partly to appease the Boer government over the killing of Boer prisoners, in order to facilitate a peace treaty; the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed on 31 May 1902.

Witton also claims that many of the accusations about them, which led to their arrest and trial, were made by disaffected members of their regiment whose rebellious behaviour had been suppressed by Morant and Handcock.

An embittered Witton did not rush to enlist in World War I. After former and future Prime Minister Andrew Fisher pledged during the 1914 general election that Australia would defend Britain "to the last man and last shilling," Witton intimated that he would be that last man. He lived in Gippsland, Victoria and in Queensland where he was a dairy farmer. He married twice, but did not have any children. He had a heart attack while cranking his car engine, and died in hospital on 14 August 1942.


  1. ^ Woolmore, pp. 142-144.
  • The Bushveldt Carbineers and the Pietersburg Light Horse by William (Bill) Woolmore (2002, Slouch Hat Publications Australia) ISBN 0-9579752-0-1
  • Denton, Kit. The Breaker, Angus and Robertson, 1973. ISBN 0 207 14368 8(a novel)
  • George, David C. Carving From the Veldt: Rifle Carvings from the Anglo-Boer War, 1899 - 1902,Northern Rivers, 2004. ISBN 0 646 44043 8 (photo of Witton's carved rifle as described in Scapegoats of the Empire)
  • O'Brien, Antony. Bye-Bye Dolly Gray, Artillery Publishing, Hartwell, 2005. ISBN 0 9758013 2 5 (an historical novel)
  • Wallace, R. L. Australians at the Boer War, Australian War Memorial, 1976. (a history)
  • Wilcox, Craig. Australia's Boer War: The War in South Africa, 1899-1902, Oxford, 2002, Ch. 14. ISBN 019551637 0 (a comprehensive academic history)
  • Witton G. R. Scapegoats of the Empire, (1907) Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1982. Clock & Rose Press, (August, 2003) ISBN 1593860161, ISBN 978-1593860165
  • Woolmore, William (Bill). The Bushveldt Carbineers and the Pietersburg Light Horse (2002), Slouch Hat Publications, Australia ISBN 0-9579752-0-1

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